Experts agree with MOH move to stop daily Covid-19 updates to media, as 'they are no longer meaningful'

Singapore is transitioning to treating Covid-19 as endemic. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Several experts The Straits Times spoke to agree with the Ministry of Health's (MOH) move to stop issuing daily Covid-19 updates to the media from Tuesday (Dec 7).

The experts say the information provided daily does not mean much at this stage of the pandemic, when Singapore is transitioning to treating Covid-19 as endemic.

The information, however, including infection numbers, deaths and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy rates, will still be available on the MOH website.

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said community infection numbers fluctuate "depending on whether individuals feel inclined to seek medical care".

He explained that given the "considerable degree of unknowns in terms of the proportion of daily infection numbers that is symptomatic or asymptomatic, it makes interpreting infection numbers difficult and, at this stage, rather pointless too".

There is also no need to report deaths on a daily basis, he said, as this is not done for any other health conditions.

This was justifiable as a pandemic response when there were no real means of protection, he added.

"But now, we have effective vaccines and also proven treatment methods, and the country is moving on from a pandemic reaction to an endemic response," he said.

Prof Teo suggests that a weekly or monthly report may suffice during this transition. "But eventually, I do not think we need to report even on a monthly basis," he said.

His colleague, Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the school, agreed that a weekly update "would allow for a better, more comprehensive view of the epidemic situation". "This is a frequency which matches the weekly updates MOH gives on other infectious diseases," he added.

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the school, thinks that even monthly reports are not needed, "barring some major change such as (the new Covid-19 variant) Omicron appearing and therefore there might be interest in tracking its spread among the vaccinated or prior-infected".

The experts see the MOH decision as a signal.

Said Prof Teo: "By pivoting away from daily reporting, MOH is clearly sending a signal that Singapore is moving on to the next phase of the transition from pandemic to endemic response."

Added Prof Cook: "I would suppose MOH is seeking to encourage journalists to dial back the coverage they give the pandemic, which has overwhelmed coverage of other matters, including other important public health matters."

But Prof Cook added that once Omicron starts circulating here, things might change and detailed reports might prove useful.

Prof Teo said: "MOH should continue to track the cause of deaths and, moving forward, the death registry will likely have a permanent addition of Covid-19 as a possible cause of death."

Countries and territories in Asia that still issue daily press releases:

Malaysia: The Ministry of Health director-general issues a daily press release on daily cases, deaths, hospitalisations, number of clusters and hospital capacity.

Thailand: Sends out a daily deck of powerpoint slides which includes new cases and new deaths, hospitalisations as well as vaccination progress. They also conduct weekly media briefings.

The Philippines: The Department of Health sends out daily press statements on Covid and it covers new cases and new deaths, hospitalisation as well as vaccination progress. They also hold weekly media briefings.

India: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issues daily Covid-19 press releases which covers active caseloads, vaccination progress, new cases and total tests conducted.

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Department of Health sends a press release on daily cases reported in the city and a separate release on hospitalisation rates.

  • Additional reporting by Eileen Ng

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